Has your little one ever looked at you and you felt like they were throwing some major shade? Well, guess what? You're not imagining it, your toddler/preschool is totally throwing shade. But it's for a good reason — kids as young as three can use facial features to make judgments about other people. A recent study by the American Psychological Association says that by the age of five, children can make character judgments based on a person's facial features at the same level adults can. And those same facial features also have an effect on how the kids will treat you.
For the study, the researchers conducted four different experiments with approximately 350 kids between the ages of 3 and 13. There were adults involved in some of the experiments as sort of a control group so the researchers could use them for the purpose of comparison.
One of the first experiments saw the researchers trying to see if the kids could predict the behavior associated with a specific face. This experiment was performed with kids and adults. So they showed them pairs of computer generated faces that were created to show trustworthy vs. untrustworthy, dominant vs. submissive and competent vs. incompetent. Then they were asked questions about which people were "nice" or "mean" or which person could "pick up heavy things," and even "know how to sing a lot of different songs." A second version of this experiment saw researchers making the features more subtle to see the effects.
As a result. the researchers found that kids over the age of three and the adults made the stereotypically expected judgments 88 percent of the time. Additionally, kids over the age of five could also pair faces with the expected behaviors. Meaning, they would pick a more dominant looking face as the one who could in fact "pick up heavy things."
"This shows that children from as early as kindergarten use facial appearance to determine meaningful judgments and expectations of others' behavior," says lead author of the study Tessa E.S. Charlesworth, MA, from Harvard University for the journal Developmental Psychology.
Taking that a step further, children were then asked, based on facial features, who they would give a gift to. This set of experiments used faces that were either trustworthy/untrustworthy or dominant vs. submissive. Charlesworth and the other researchers found that five-year-olds were more able to make judgments around behavior than the three-year-olds.
"This research shows that perceptions of people, however inaccurate those judgments may be, emerge early in humans. What this study uniquely shows is that these inaccuracies don't just sit around in a child's head, they manifest in the child's behavior toward others who are viewed as good or bad based on features of the face that are irrelevant to decisions about character and personality," says one of the co-authors of the study, Mahzarin R. Banaji, PhD, who also works at Harvard University.
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